x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

George Khan finds a new direction

It took more than a decade for the Indian actor Om Puri to resurrect the character of George Khan from the comedy success of East is East for the more serious sequel, West is West.

Om Puri and Ila Arun in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Om Puri and Ila Arun in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

ABU DHABI // It took more than a decade for the Indian actor Om Puri to resurrect the character of George Khan from the comedy success of East is East.

Reprising his role in West is West, Puri returned to being an angry, aggressive Pakistani man at odds with his British-born children born to an English mother. The film is set in 1976, five years after East is East ended.

George returns to Pakistan to introduce one of his sons to their homeland. There, he has to revisit his Pakistani first wife, Basheera (played by the Indian folk singer and actress Ila Arun), whom he left behind 30 years ago. That, he says, is what gives this film more depth than the previous one.

"It is more mature," he said. "It delivers the same comedic sensibilities as East is East but this one is more intense and profound.

"East is East had more humour. It has more witty, funny moments but in West is West, there is human drama."

Puri is one of India's most successful crossover actors, having starred in a number of western films, including Gandhi, Charlie Wilson's War and the British television adaptation of Zadie Smith's novel, White Teeth. He has also starred in more than 200 Bollywood films.

When East is East was released in 1999, George Khan and his family were a success with British and American audiences.

A small-budget film, it grossed 10 times its production costs of £1.9 million (Dh11.2m). However, it remained fairly unknown to South Asian audiences.

This time around, Arun is confident Indian audiences will identify with the characters, as will expatriate families in North America and the Middle East, and Arab families.

Her character is a woman who has to live apart from her husband and accept with grace that he married again. She also lives with the burden of having produced only girls before George's departure to England.

"The character is very dignified," she said. "Her story is not only about a Pakistani woman but it will resonate with women universally."

Arun said that after Saturday's Emirates Palace premiere, she was approached by two women from Brazil who hugged her for playing Basheera.

"They said they were crying but they identified with what my character has to go through," she said. "They said it was the universal image of a woman."

A third film is now in the works. Leslie Udwin, the film's producer, said they started to consider making a trilogy only after West is West was under way. The stories are based on a play called East is East by Ayub Khan-Din.

"At that time we didn't believe it was possible," she said of the first film. "But now, yes, we hope to set the next film five years on from this one. "When Ayub started telling me the stories, I realised these were real stories of his family. I knew it would be a trilogy."

A special screening of the film was arranged last night in Dubai, in support of the Pakistani flood victims. All the ticket proceeds will go towards rebuilding efforts, through the Red Crescent Authority.



West is West will receive a second screening at Marina Mall at 6.30pm on Wednesday.